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Global Plan Needed To Stop BirdFlu Human Pandemic

UN Conference Urges Global Funding To Stop Bird Flu Becoming Human Pandemic

A United Nations conference on bird flu in Asia today called on the international community to urgently help with hundreds of millions of dollars in financing for “vital changes” needed to prevent the virus from mutating into a global human influenza pandemic, which in a worst-case scenario could claim tens of millions of lives.

“The virus is still circulating among poultry, ducks and wildlife in the region and continues to pose a serious threat to human health and animals,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said at the end of a three-day regional conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.

Chief veterinary officers from 28 countries at the meeting, organized by FAO and the 167-member inter-governmental World Animal Health Organization (OIE) in collaboration with the UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO), called on governments in the region and the international community to make the fight against the virus a top priority and to commit more financial resources to national and regional anti-bird flu campaigns.

Experts agreed that a year after the bird flu crisis, progress has been made in early detection of and rapid response to the disease, which has so far infected more than 50 people, mainly in Viet Nam and Thailand, over three dozen of them fatally, and led to the deaths or culling of nearly 140 million birds.

There are fewer outbreaks today than were recorded a year ago, but more funds and more vigorous campaigns in affected countries could help control the disease in birds and thus avoid the risk of a global avian influenza pandemic in humans. “As long as the virus continues to circulate among animals, it will remain a threat to humans,” FAO said.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20, which is not related to the current virus, is thought to have killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide.

The conference recognized the link between farming systems and the spread of the virus, especially the proximity between farmed chickens and ducks in many backyard households contributing to the circulation of the disease. Movement and marketing of live animals, not controlled by veterinarians, are a major cause for spreading the disease.

It recommended several strategies to minimize the risk of transmission between species and to therefore protect humans, such as segregation in farm settings of chickens, ducks, and other animals such as pigs and a reduction in contact between these animals and humans. There are between 25 million and 40 million village backyard poultry farmers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Delegates called on the international community to help with financing these costly but vital changes. More than $100 million would be needed to urgently strengthen animal health services and laboratories to improve virus detection and its ultimate eradication, and several hundred million more dollars for restocking infected poultry and restructuring the whole sector.

“The bird flu virus does not respect borders and needs a strong regional response,” FAO said. “Without proper funding, these networks will cease their activities within the next six months.”

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